Sunday, 31 August 2008

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament 1 review

What do you do on the day before doomsday? If you're one of the superheroes in this comic, you talk. A lot.

Geo Force talks to Black Lightning about his plan to kill Deathstroke, the man who corrupted his sister and put her on the road to death. Then he speaks to Challenger of the Unknown Rocky Davis about the same thing. Outsider Grace also talks to Rocky, about her lack of a belief system. Rocky talks to Black Lightning about Geo Force.

Why is everyone talking to Rocky, suddenly? Because despite more than 50 years of comic book life, we never knew that when not challenging the unknown, he's running a superhero confessional. He sits there, unseen by them, and acts as priest.

I really wish I were making this up. Brad Meltzer did. He also made up Grace's lack of belief in the existence of Hera and other godly types. That's Grace who is a member of the Bana tribe, sisters of the Paradise Island Amazons who were, er, created by Hera and her kind.

Why is everyone so chatty? Because this issue takes place the night before they expects the world to end. They expect this because Clark Kent told them so. How will it end? They don't quite know. Hmm, doesn't that sound like an Unknown worth challenging?

Nah, not when, like Starfire, you could hang around the grave of the Flying/Falling Graysons and hope Nightwing turns up (Titans communicators apparently aren't working, perhaps to do with the lack of electricity mentioned by Brion). She reckons 'He always comes here. Like everyone else on a night like tonight . . .' It seems there have been previous End of Everything Eves, and Dick had nothing better to do than stand by your grave.

My memory must be going. Last time the DCU was in major schtum I recall Nightwing, Starfire, Black Lightning and chums actually trying to do something about it. Meltzer tries to get round this here by having Brion tell us that 'This time, there's nothing to punch.'

So what, the heroes just sit round on their arses, waiting for the monsters to come and get them? They don't actually try anything? Maybe an investigation? I heard tell Dick Grayson wasn't bad at that.

So where's Dick? He's gone to Gotham City to have fun swooping down into alleys on batlines with Tim and Bruce, for old times' sake, perhaps. We're not told why. Batman, the man with the plan, has no plan.

Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is following ancient Greek tradition by burying coins, with Donna Troy. Well, that was the idea; Donna is burying her wedding ring, apparently under the impression that dead hubby Terry Long is out there somewhere, to come back to. Poor dumb Donna.

And all over the DCU heroes are hugging and, in one case, shagging.

JLA leader Black Canary has a plan, we're told; she's gathering an army of heroes for the following day. Why act now when you can spend time tracking down 'the last members of Primal Force'? (I'm guessing this takes place just before the gathering of heroes in Final Crisis 3, though we're told that's the result of Alan Scott's superhero draft rather than Dinah Lance. Answers on a postcard . . .)

Not that we see this. We do see Black Lightning invite Geo Force for a last supper with his family - no doubt the wielder of the black lightning is on barbecue duty.

Brion declines, he has places to go, villains to kill. Oh, and obits to write - he tells us he's written his obituary for the world to see . . . that's the world he doesn't believe is going to be around in a day or two.

Silly old Brion. Off he goes to make a right pig's ear of killing Deathstroke, his big idea being to take down Slade Wilson in the alley where the latter slit son Jericho's throat (if only he'd sliced off that perm). But Slade is prepared - remember, this is the guy Meltzer had take down most of the JLA in about a page, back in Identity Crisis. That was convincing.

Here, against just one hero, his initial success is more believable, as he used Brion's true super-power - infinite stupidity - against him. At the start of this book we're told Brion is more powerful than ever. Rocky notes that he inadvertently moves Challengers Mountain three inches when he gets emotional. So does the man with the power of the earth upload a mini-mountain on Deathstroke's head? Nah, after Deathstroke jumps out of the way of a three-way fisting, he just stands there on a floating rock and tries talking him to death. Finally, hero and villain clash and, his power neutered, Brion slits his own throat, to get close enough to Deathstroke to gut him with his own sword. In a powerful page the two lie there, dead.

Or not. Both survive. Here's a great chance to have a D-list hero die decently while taking out the Mary Sue of the villain world, and does Meltzer take it? Does he heck. Deathstroke will fight another day and Brion lies on a hospital bed, ashamed that he's letting Black Lightning misinterpret the fight.

Clark, meanwhile, is sitting on a swing with Pa Kent, being miserable. He's telling Pa how great a job he did in raising him to do good, while doing precisely nothing (well, apart from disappearing from the bench for the odd panel - hey, he was blocking our view of Pa).

The only fella who does a good deed in this wrongheaded comic is Len Snart, Captain Cold. He stops another bad guy from assaulting a store owner.

Thank God, then, for Hal Jordan, who turns up on the final page, all gung ho and ready for battle - an actual hero rather than a loser.

The closest this nonsense comic has to a saving grace is the artwork of Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert and John Dell (I'm guessing he inked Adam, please correct me as necessary). Adam's stuff is powerful, and I enjoyed it, but his father's work is simply mythic, possessing the easy grace of a legend. The face of Captain Cold alone is a masterclass in providing character through line.

As for Meltzer's script, it reads convincing. Statements are made which seem right for the situation, but they really only work if you believe the heroes of the DCU have been replaced by a legion of losers. There's plenty of melodrama, but not enough drama that can be held up to the light.

If this is truly the last will and testament of the DC heroes I'd rather they died intestate.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Flash 243 review

At the end of last issue one of Wally's twins, Iris, was dead at the hands of Gorilla Grodd. Turns out it was Grodd using his Force of Mind power to mess with everyone's head and Iris is alive. Mind, she's still decades older than she should be, older than her twin, Jai, and far older than her parents. Once Grodd is defeated - in novel style - the rest of this issue concentrates on resolving the issue of the ageing spurts resolved.

This is done in fine style, with Wally and family showing they're a bright bunch, problem solving under difficult circumstances. Tom Peyer really gets Wally, though he's not had a chance to show us much of wife Linda on top form - since Mark Waid relaunched this book she's spent all her time, understandably, fretting about her kids. Now the ageing problem is resolved I want to see the return of spunky Linda, she's been gone for far too long. Let Freddie E Williams II (why not Jr?), whose Wally gets better every issue - check out this month's opening spread, which boasts great super-speed noodling - draw her smiling for more than one panel a month. Williams also deserves points for managing to draw bloated blimp boy Jai in non-creepy manner.

The book ends on a wonderfully optimistic note, with the type of scene creative teams bow out on.

Oh, hang on . . .

It's taken six months, and I hated the first couple of issues with Spin, but the Fast Money arc soon sucked me in. I'm convinced that Peyer and Williams make for a great Flash team. So yeah, they're off, and teevee writer Alan Burnett is coming on board. He must be good, he's from teevee, that's the DC thinking these days. Maybe he'll be great - heck, all he has to do is bring back Wally's Mom from Hell, Mary West, and I'm his bitch - but I'm sick of the creative team changes on this book. If Burnett doesn't work out, I've a suggestion for a new writer who has shown he can commit to a book, who wrote a brilliant run of Captain Atom, who has recently returned to comics and who is not unfamiliar with the Flash family. Step forward, Cary Bates . ..

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Brave and the Bold 16 review

A few years ago, Superman answers the bat signal, covering for his out of town pal. He's soon teamed up with Catwoman to stop the underworld auction of 'a map to some hidden cave just outside the city'. Ulp.

That's the set-up for a truly delightful issue of one of the best superhero books on the stands. It pairs two heroes I've never seen work together, and just lets their characters bounce off one another - Superman, the straight arrow; Catwoman, the wily minx. Sparks fly as Superman tries to deflect the attentions of Selina, who is suddenly wondering if she should give up on the bad boys ('It's not like I'm going to break him. Despite my very best efforts. Mmmm.')

There are surprises galore in Mark Waid's clever script, with plenty of drama and comic scenes that arise from character rather than contrivance. The best of these sees Catwoman helping Superman with an undercover design . . .

Meanwhile Scott Kolins - in the first foray to Gotham I can recall him making - provides beautiful artwork, from the playful cover to the final page; Gotham has more character than at any time since the days of Anton Furst's design, Selina tumbles gracefully over the rooftops, Superman's powers are shown in novel ways . . .

An extra level of vibrancy is added by Rob Schwager's colours, while Rob Leigh's letters are spot-on. The team is coordinated by editor Joey Cavalieri, one of DC's strongest. I just hope he's staying on the book with the pending arrival of J Michael Straczynski, whose writing can get a tad pedestrian at times.

Still, that's a worry for another time. For now, here's a great example of how good a comic can be without being tied to a crossover event - Superman and Catwoman had me purring with pleasure.

Birds of Prey 121 review

Joker joins technological terrorists the Silicon Syndicate, new girl Infinity begins to integrate with the Birds and Charlie goes to school in the pleasingly titled 'Bring on the Bad Guys (if you're young, that was the name of Stan Lee's Marvel villains book in the Seventies).

The Joker is massively overexposed across the DC Universe, but I'm delighted to see him in this book, as we're being teased that there will be a final confrontation with Oracle, crippled by him in the iconic (and overrated, from a story point of view) Killing Joke. Before that, though, we get some lovely bits of Joker business, far superior to anything in the recent Batman movie. The best of these ties in with Stephane Roux's lovely cover rather well.

I'm still not managing to remember who the Silicon Syndicate members are from issue to issue, but I'm helped in this area by the addition of another familiar DC bad guy (after Titans baddie Gizmo showed up last time), Kilg%re, from the Flash. We're still not told if that's pronounced with the 'per cent' symbol sounded out, or whether that's merely a more computery way of writing 'oo' and it's simply 'Kilgore' as in 'Trout'. I don't suppose it matters . . .

. . . though it might to the computer geeks who rule Charlie's new school, the cleverly named Babbage High. They're not too impressed by the new girl and neither are the jocks, though by the end of the issue she's made a couple of pals and is feeling OK. So guess who then shows up and proves instantly popular? Yup, her alleged sister, fellow Bird and big rival, Black Alice. Who knows, maybe they'll bond?

Yeah, right. If they do, though, another Bird who'll be on hand to see it happen is Huntress, Babbage's newest teacher. I should've seen that coming, but didn't, which made for a decent surprise. The rest of the Birds don't do much this time out - Zinda gives Charlie a lift to school, Babs continues to be secretive and, well, that's it really. Not that I cared, I was having too much fun with the school and villain scenes. Writer Tony Bedard is really making this book his own, and new art team Michael O'Hare and John Floyd are settling in nicely - I especially like their Misfit. Heck, any team this side of Steve Englehart and the late Marshall Rogers who can have me enjoying the Joker have to be good.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds 1 review

The Time Trapper, in his latest scheme against the Legion, pulls Superboy Prime to the 31st century. There, the super-powered psycho destroys Smallville, visits the Superman Museum and frees the Legion of Super-Villains from prison planet Takron Galtos.

And that's the basics of this five-part Final Crisis tie-in. But God is in the detail when Geoff Johns and George Perez get together and the detail here is stunning. There's Johns' sharp characterisation of the Legion, their enemies and various United Planets diplomats; and Perez's legendary appetite for drawing casts of thousands - it's obvious he's relishing every panel here.

This is the Legion as used by Johns recently in Action Comics and we join them immediately after that adventure ends. The UP are pressurising the team to disband during one of their regular stupid periods and the Legion is resisting. Well, most of them are, but one or two members - notably Sun Boy and Brainiac 5 - are wondering if the UP is right. Heck, the anti-Legion diplomats even include one of their own, Myg, formerly Karate Kid 2. Bah! No one ever liked him anyway.

And that's the attitude displayed here by Superman Prime. He's still in a cosmic snit about losing his chance to be Superman to his Earth (rather than at the loss of its billions of people) and so is killing wherever he goes. While his rants are undeniably entertaining, it's difficult to believe this guy is a version of Kal-El and Kal-L. Not just the capacity for bitterness, but the sheer stupidity; the only way I can reconcile things is to assume his mind snapped after all the years of isolation from a regular universe. Stuck in a netherworld with a ginger-permed Alex Luthor he lost it . . . wouldn't you?

Anyway, kudos to Superman, summoned through time by the LSH to help out, for recognising that while a vile killer, Prime is also a victim - he needs help, and that's what he hopes to do with the aid of the reinforcements brought in by Brainiac 5 - the post-Zero Hour and current Legion.

If the quality keeps up, this is going to be the highlight of my comics year, and given that Johns and Perez don't tend to jump off in the middle of a project, I've no reason to believe the book won't stay great. Kudos also to inker Scott Koblish, who puts a pleasing sheen on Perez's pencils, Hi-Fi for not making any obvious colour errors and Nick Napolitano for a nice lettering job.

Highlights in a book full of nothing but? The spread showing the Superman Museum; the first shot of the older founders - Lightning Lad, rough-edged, burning with rage, Saturn Girl, serene and thoughtful, Cosmic Boy, still looking like a Fifties astronaut, believing all will be well; and the arrival of the Legions of Reinforcement Heroes. Even something as simple as Metropolis at night, as rendered by the artistic team, looked stupendous.

There was only one thing I didn't like, and it was tiny - the display showing the arrival of out current Superman on Earth, in the daft-looking crystal capsule from Superman 1. Honestly, I want my red and blue baby rocket!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Booster Gold 11 review

Writers Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz left this book on a high note last issue. Booster's latest spot of time tinkering was a success, his long-dead sister Michelle was returned to his life and we learned the true identity of Rip Hunter. Soon, Booster's creator, and current artist, Dan Jurgens steps up to the writing plate, but before that, a few fill-ins.

First off, Chuck Dixon supplies what will be one of his last DC stories for awhile, some kind of disagreement having taken him away from the company again. That's a shame, as I usually enjoy his stuff.

This, not so much. Perhaps I haven't got my brain in gear, but I couldn't follow the cross-time capers this time out. There was some time travelling villain who had previously appeared in a Batman story I missed, Booster dressing up as Killer Moth, a vanishing Batgirl . . . my main problem was that I didn't get how the first scene of a Killer Moth robbery gelled with a different perspective on it later in the issue. I won't spell out where I'm confused as, if you've not read this issue yet, I'll probably be putting my stupidity into your head, colouring your own reading of the tale, but yeah, I'm confused.

Perhaps part two will make things clearer to this bear of little brain. Meanwhile, there were incidental pleasures - a Batmobile straight out of the TV show, All-Action Alfred, a very Nick Fury Jim Gordon, the integration of Michelle/Goldstar and the wonderfully clear artwork of Jurgens and Norm Rapmund.

Reading this issue, though, has me wondering if the book should have ended with the loss of Katz and Johns - they gave Booster Gold a very high concept (time travelling saviour who must keep his good deeds secret) and perhaps only they can make it work. It could be that the concept would be best served in occasional specials, fitted into the schedule according to the workload of Johns and Katz - after all, how many time-bending tales can you have before befuddlement sets in?

I'll reserve judgement as there's another fill-in, by Rick Remender, before Jurgens takes over, and perhaps these gentlemen can convince me that Booster Gold's comic should stick around without a Bo(oster Go)ld New Direction. Certainly I like the idea of Booster's daddy being at the helm again. Will it be good? We'll know in time.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Wonder Woman 23 review

The Ends of the Earth storyline concludes with Diana battling nasty demon chap D'grath in Washington while her barbarian allies remain in whichever sword and sorcery dimension they were in last month. I think it was that of Claw the Unconquered, but one sword and sorcery scenario is much like any another to me, Mart the Uninterested.

That's just detail, what matters is that we were given an interesting battle; as a diehard 'get on with the fisticuffs so we can move on to the soap' fella, it takes a lot to keep my attention during a fight. Writer Gail Simone managed it here, by having Diana fight against herself too, her soul having been stolen by a plot contrivance. Diana's internal monologue complemented her battle banter with the fiery fella nicely. Diana gets a tad worthy at times - as a news copter comes too close and is thwacked by a demon, she thinks: "Thus we see the danger of mistaking a lust for base titillation with a lust for true knowledge." But, there are moments of levity too, my favourite funny this time being: "Every swordlackey and would-be assassin on three worlds has called me whatever the local slang is for 'strumpet.' "

Scenes back at Diana's flat, in which Donna persuades Nemesis that she's friend, not foe, were likewise a decent blend of light and shade. I enjoyed these moments as much as those featuring Diana - when Donna is written correctly she's just plain fun, the solid superheroine next door. Diana, while capable of wit, as mentioned above, doesn't feel as approachable. Diana feels born to majesty, like Princess Anne, whereas Donna is more like Fergie, the fun-loving gal who married into the firm. I like them both, for different reasons.

Mind, we see here that Donna can do royal every bit as well as Diana, kneeling before Nemesis and making a sacred vow that she's. y'know, his pal. Diana, meanwhile, uses her royalty as a prelude to kicking Demon Guy's arse (character names with apostrophes don't half get on my nerves - give us a vowel, for crying out loud! The only one I can ever remember is that New Titan woman, Curryand'r).

Those nice houseguests of Diana's are still on the scene, making me laugh. God knows how Diana's downstairs numbers don't notice the sound of half a dozen big apes bounding around . ..

The final fate of the demon is different, to say the least; I was expecting him to be sent to a Dark Dimension for All-Time (about two years, max), but no, he's dispatched by Diana, Claw, Beowulf and Stalker, and no mistake). Good on Gail for making me think about the nastiness involved in killing a foe, even a demon lord.

There was an apparent disconnect. Maybe I'm reading without comprehension, but in one scene Oracle, the Witch Queen seems ready to kill Beowulf and Claw. Next time we see them, they're all getting along fine. Please, someone explain!

The end of the book sees a somewhat smaller demon spying on Diana. At first I thought it was boring old Etrigan, but this one actually looks hairier. Maybe it's one of those guys from Trinity. Or maybe not!

Anyway, this has been an enjoyable few issues. I'm going to read them together, and fill in the odd blank in my brain. And look again at Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan's art, which has been simply spectacular. You want possessed princess? No problem. Gorilla pruning secret agent? Of course. Imposing demon? How big? There seems to be no scene this pair can't make look great, whether it's quiet or action-packed. Even the transitions between scenes are smartly handled, with swords and skeletons lining the borders of new scenes.

They're helped by the vivid colours of Brad Anderson, and letters of Travis Lanham, who does a great line in demon-font.

Simone, Lopresti and co have become a Wonder Team Supreme - kudos to them, and editors Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro for running the show. It's great to have a solid Wonder Woman book, after years of instability.

X-Men Origins: Jean Grey review

The latest in Marvel's high-end retellings of mutant beginnings, this features probably the most iconic X-Man this side of (spit) Wolverine. I've no idea why it's titled Jean Gray rather than the more obvious Marvel Girl. Yes, that's how Marvel tends to refer to her in current continuity, there having been various Marvel Girls and Phoenixes since her heyday, but still, Jean was the first.

The cover's striking, and a fair indication of what's to come - Jean's earliest days as a mutant rendered in photorealistic art. The comic does what it says on the tin, but it's uninspiring stuff. Sean McKeever's retelling is solid, but by definition we're not going to get anything really new here, it's more a question of putting a sheen on stuff we already knew. So there's the visit to the Greys after Jean's powers are activated following tragedy, the mind locks placed on Jean's telekinesis, the first day at the School for Gifted Youngsters and so on.

I wasn't keen on a clunky bit of foreshadowing ('The act of healing her falls just short of a resurrection') but it was good that there was no glossing over the fact that Xavier was wrong to take Jean away to the school; the girl was effectively cured and he was using her for his own agenda.

And McKeever flopped on my expectations, when Jean wasn't feared and hated after saving a new pal from an out-of-control truck and revealing her powers - I was expected a cliched scene of rejection and tears, but no, there were thanks from the friend and cockiness from Jean. Nice.

The illustrations by Mike Mayhew are impressive, and often effective, but lack life - almost everything looks posed.

Also, I'm not keen on Xavier being drawn as a young Patrick Stewart, it's not like he didn't have a set face for several decades prior to the X-Men films. My gosh, he actually looks like he's trimming those mutant eyebrows ... Still, there were some lovely moments, such as a pastoral mindscape turning nightmarish, Jean losing control at the mall, and her first appearance in costume. Plus, shoe fetishists will be delighted by the focus on Xavier's brogues.

All in all, a pretty comic, but pretty inconsequential. It'll look great in a hardback collection, which seems to be a big motivation for Marvel these days.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Ms Marvel 29

Oh look, it's the comic I swore off last issue. Seems it's still in my order, so let's have a look.

Cover . . . quite amusing, a blonde woman in a Private Benjamin uniform who doesn't look like Carol Danvers is showing us her tits and pouting. Oh, and there are some amusing anti-Skrull badges too - that's a Secret Invasion Tie-In for you.

Inside we do find Ms Marvel and she's mighty annoyed, apparently as sick of Skrull Summer as I am. She's terribly peeved because a giant Skrull is smashing a building with people in it. Last issue, she bashed a nasty Skrull halfway across the city and through several buildings with people in them, but she's not a nasty Skrull so that's alright.

'And with every dead Skrull, I become more determined than ever to kill all of these animals. To stack their bodies in Times Square. And to have one hell of a bonfire.'

Go Carol, go Carol! Be the best you can be, little girls everywhere will want to be you because This Female Fights Back! Fly Ms Marvel, fly to the Skrull Homeworld and kill Skrull Babies, before they become Damn Dirty Skrulls.

Ms Marvel can take any Skrull, because she has formidable weapons - see Ms Marvel's breasts fly in the face of evil! Watch her gigantic arse defend the people of Manhattan! Marvel at those Kree-enhanced thighs!

Ms Marvel, you're too good for us.